Kelly continues to be bedeviled by Dodgers

September 20th, 2022

LOS ANGELES -- No one has faced the National League West champion Dodgers more than Merrill Kelly this season. And no team has derailed the D-backs right-hander’s great 2022 campaign more than Los Angeles.

Taking on the Dodgers for the fifth time this year, Merrill Kelly was tagged for five earned runs in six innings in Arizona’s 5-2 loss on Monday night at Dodger Stadium. The D-backs have lost all five of those starts.

“It’s like having a big brother you keep wrestling and every time, he taps you out,” said Kelly. “I know that I can compete with them. … It’s when you start getting crooked numbers and deep innings against a team like that, is when you start getting beat. I feel like I throw competitive games against them, but I just need to do a better job of the damage control.”

While a Joey Gallo solo shot in the second inning was the first blemish on Kelly’s line, it was indeed a crooked number in the fourth that led to the game getting away from Kelly and the D-backs. With one out, right fielder Jordan Luplow got his glove on a Max Muncy liner, but he was unable to hold on to it and it went for a double. Then, Gallo struck again, this time with an RBI base hit to kick off a four-run Dodgers rally.

L.A. notched four hits off Kelly in the frame, including a home run by designated hitter Chris Taylor after an original call of fan interference was overturned from a crew chief review. Taylor’s homer came on a first-pitch sinker at the bottom of the zone, a prime example of the execution issues that plagued Kelly for much of the night.

“They were coming out being aggressive that inning,” said Kelly. “I wanted to throw a pitch that looked like a strike and ended up a ball. I wanted to run it off the plate and try to get in on [Taylor’s] hands a little bit right there. I left it over the plate. He can hit balls down. He hits balls down and in pretty well. That just kind of fed into his swing a little bit there.”

The loss was a continuation of a discouraging trend for Kelly, who would be looking at an NL Cy Young Award-type season if not for his struggles against Los Angeles. In his 25 starts against clubs that are not the Dodgers, he has a 2.38 ERA. That mark would rank third among qualified NL starters.

However, versus L.A., Kelly has an ERA of 8.25 (22 earned runs in 24 innings). And in each of those games, he’s allowed at least three earned runs, including a season-worst eight runs in two innings on May 17. Besides the Dodgers, only one team has scored five earned runs vs. Kelly in a game this year (the Reds, on June 13).

“I’ve just got to make better pitches,” said Kelly. “With a team like that, the more mistakes you make, the more chances they have of getting you. That’s why they’re such a good team. They don’t miss the mistakes that a lot of other teams do.”

With five games in a span of four days at Dodger Stadium -- part of a stretch of 18 games in 17 days for Arizona, which includes a doubleheader on Tuesday -- Kelly was going to need to pitch for as long as he could in the series opener, which is why he worked into the sixth inning. In all, Kelly allowed eight hits and two walks on 97 pitches (61 strikes).

“I thought it was exceptional that he gave us that extra inning,” manager Torey Lovullo said. “There was a point in time where I thought maybe he was gonna be able to give us seven. We're budgeting, we're talking about those things in the dugout to figure out how we're gonna get through it.

“We know we got 18 innings tomorrow, so it falls on the starting pitchers. And he gave us the six innings and gave us the ability to be very fresh tomorrow, and we're ready for two games.”